Who is Michael Brindisi? Minnesota theater cancels 'Cinderella' play as director says the cast is 'too White'

The theater also plans to make long-term changes, including hiring a diversity consultant, in a bid to become 'a more intentionally anti-racist theater'


                            Who is Michael Brindisi? Minnesota theater cancels 'Cinderella' play as director says the cast is 'too White'
Michael Brindisi said he considered recasting but ultimately decided to 'scrap this and start fresh with a clean slate'. A view of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres on the right (Michael Brindisi, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres via Facebook)
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Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (CDT) in Minnesota has decided to cancel its upcoming 'Cinderella' play, but not for its content. Instead, the theater is scrapping the production because its cast is "too White". The interesting announcement was made by the show's artistic director Michael Brindisi. Brindisi insisted that the play will be restaged sometime in the future, but did not give a definite timeline.

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The theater also plans to make long-term changes, including hiring a diversity consultant, in a bid to become “a more intentionally anti-racist theater”. In the middle of a culture war and repeated complaints of 'cancel culture', this announcement will come as a surprise to many. It wasn't a decision taken due to pressure from outside groups, but an internal one. "It was 98 percent white," Brindisi said. "That doesn’t work with what we’re saying we’re going to do."

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Making such a huge decision doesn't come lightly, which begs the question - who is Brindisi? Here's all we know about the person behind such a monumental shift for a small Minnesota-based theater.

The interior of the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres via LinkedIn)

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Who is Michael Brindisi?

Brindisi has been a longtime member of CDT, having first joined the theater in 1971. His first affiliation was on stage in a production of 'The Matchmaker'. Since then, he has gone on to become the Resident Artistic Director, having celebrated 30 years in the role in 2018. His first show for CDT was 'Private Lives' in 1988. Since 2010, he also serves on the Ownership Team of the theater. If that isn't enough, the CDT website also lists him as the "President", in charge of daily operations.

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Brindisi's theatrical credits stretch even further, having worked as a freelance director in 40 productions over seven consecutive summers. That includes three with Bemidji’s Paul Bunyan Playhouse and four with the Minnesota Festival Theatre. Brindisi also has several acting credits to his name, having played the role of Kenickie in the national tour of 'Grease' and appeared in the Broadway revival of 'Once in a Lifetime'. 

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Brindisi is married to Michelle Barber, who is an actor who has appeared in multiple stage productions. The couple has a daughter, Cat, who is also a prolific theater actor. They reside in the city of Chanhassen. Brindisi graduated from Lea College, in Albert Lea, Minnesota in 1970 with a degree in English literature and psychology. He then headed to the Twin Cities where he got his first gig at Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop.

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The director is originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he also briefly attended Temple University. He also spent some time in New York and Minneapolis, before settling in Chanhassen. Based on his Facebook profile, he is also an advocate for criminal justice. On his birthday in 2020, he sought to raise funds for the Equal Justice Initiative. 

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Michael Brindisi, director at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres (Chanhassen Dinner Theatres website)

Canceling 'Cinderella'

Brindisi was behind the decision to scrap CDT's production of Cinderella. Initially, he considered recasting but ultimately decided to “scrap this and start fresh with a clean slate.” In an interview with Twin Cities, he said, "We’ve really dug in on diversity, equity and inclusion, the commitment to social justice and getting more diversity into our business across the board.” 

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The theater has also announced several other changes. For one, it is hiring Kelli Foster Warder as its diversity director. It is also introducing new pre-production protocols, such as inviting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) artists to analyze the production. They have also made a commitment to 'identity-conscious casting'. While the commitments are certainly commendable, the question is will the theater be able to live up to it?

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The New York Post noted that "Chanhassen’s population is 92 percent white, 3 percent hispanic and 1 percent black". If actors can't be found locally, it is likely the theater will have to expand its search radius, and it is unclear as of now if that will have any major financial implications. Since the theaters have been shut for over a year, staging a play with a live audience is critical for CDT. 

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The theater hopes to stage 'The Music Man' on July 2, hopefully at 50% capacity if government regulations permit. It will replace the slot originally held by 'Cinderella', which is being replaced by a production of 'Footloose'. That is likely to open at some time in 2022, but no dates have been decided yet. Brindisi also said that he would indeed stage 'Cinderella' at some point in the future, but did not commit to a date. 

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